Sletten and Verburg ready to twizzle their way into Omaha

Gwen Sletten and Elliot Verburg are the reigning Juvenile Dance silver medalists and are competing as intermediates this season.  She is 11 and he is 13 and they both participate in the French immersion program at their school.  They train at the Wheaton Skating Academy in Wheaton, Maryland along with some of the top ice dance teams in the United States.  Sletten’s two younger brothers also train at the Academy.  They claimed the silver medal at Eastern Sectionals to earn their trip to nationals.  After a long day of training last Saturday, they sat down with me before the Wheaton Ice Show to talk about their relationship on and off the ice, competing against their training mates and their goals for nationals.

Tell me about yourselves outside of skating.
Elliot Verburg: We go to the same school.  There’s an elementary school and then there’s a middle school attached to it. Gwen is in 5th grade and I’m in 7th.  Gwen doesn’t enjoy doing homework.
Gwen Sletten:  No I don’t.  Like at all.
EV: Gwen sits in the car on her phone while I do homework.

Tell me about yourselves as a team. 
GS: We’re like brother and sister.
EV: My little sister is Gwen’s best friend.  So on Sundays, the day I’m supposed to have off, is usually the day I see Gwen.
GS: I see him more than he sees his sister.

How did you get paired together?
EV: When she was in kindergarten Gwen and my little sister started skating here in group lessons so I had to come every Friday to the rink.  So people said that since I was here anyway I should skate too.  This is our fourth season together.

So you’ve never skated with anyone else?
GS: No, never.
EV: Not planning on it.

What do you like best about skating?
GS: When we skate we really dance.  For me it keeps my mind off everything else.  I can really focus on what I’m doing and it makes it so much more fun.

Tell me about your typical day.
GS: School.  Skating.
EV: Wake up at 6:30, take a shower, eat breakfast, take my dog for a walk, do whatever homework I have left, then go to school.  Then I do homework for 45 minutes until Gwen comes out and then Ian (Somerville) carpools with us to practice.
GS: I’m in the middle every single time.
EV: Then we go to skating.  Skate for maybe 2 hours and then an hour off-ice.  On Saturday, we wake up at 5:40, skate at 6:45 for an hour, get a 15 minute break.  Get back on the ice for an hour and 45 minutes, then have ballet for 45 minutes, then off-ice conditioning for an hour, then sleep.  Usually on Saturday I’m way past the tired stage.

Some of your biggest competition comes from the Academy.  What is it like to compete against your training mates
GS: It helps because we know where we stand and help each other out.  This morning we had a lesson together and that was really fun.  I guess it’s just healthy competition.
EV: It helps to know its 1-2 or it can switch up any single day.
GS: If one of us comes in 2nd it’s not as bad because we’re all friends and we’ll help each other.

The Wheaton Ice Skating Academy qualified nine teams to nationals this year.  What do you think makes this program so successful?
EV: The fact that we’re all just a huge family.
GS: We help each other out and when we’re all together the coach can ask them to show something so we can see what it looks like.

This is the first time junior nationals is being held with nationals.  How do you think this will be different from your previous experiences?
EV: Last year we were close to the top of the pyramid but this year we’re…
GS: Little specks.  It will be fun to see Meryl Davis and Charlie White and the Shibutanis and everyone and see them skate and have an idea of what we want to do when we’re older.

You are the reigning Juvenile silver medalists.  Do you think that gives you more confidence going into nationals?  More pressure?
GS: You want to do your best.  For me I want to know that I did my best.

Is there anything in particular you’ve been working on this season?
GS & EV: Twizzles.
EV: Twizzles and footwork.
GS: Footwork is really important with the judges. But mostly twizzles.
EV: Yea twizzles.  Really just twizzles.

Tell me about your free dance.
EV: It’s more of a love hate free dance.
GS: It’s really fun because I can express myself and I get to actually communicate with the audience which is really fun.  It really shows our personalities together I think.

What are your goals for nationals?
EV: Level 2 on footwork and Level 4 on twizzles.  I don’t think we’ve gotten that all year.

Who are you looking forward to meeting in Omaha?
EV: We’ve met Meryl Davis and Charlie White at the Chesapeake Dance Camp.
GS: and Tanith Belbin.  I’m excited to see Evan Lysacek.

Photo courtesy of Barry Gropman